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A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

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The Hindu Kush is situated between north-western Pakistan and eastern and central Afghanistan. It is a five hundred mile mountain range, the highest point of which is over 25,000 feet.

 

In 1957 Eric Newby, author of The Last Grain Race and Slowly Down the Ganges, went for this ‘short walk’ with his companion Hugh Carless. The aim was to climb the Mir Samir (an unclimbed (at that time) glacial peak of 20,000 ft) but neither had any experience of mountain climbing though Newby was ex SBS and a POW in the 2nd world war, Carless had been in intelligence during the war and then joined the Foreign Service with a good knowledge of Persian.

 

In preparation they spent a weekend in Wales doing a crash course in mountain climbing with far from promising results. As they were leaving one of the lady climbers handed Newby a ‘little pamphlet costing sixpence. It showed, with the aid of pictures, the right and wrong ways of climbing a mountain.’

 

"We haven’t been able to teach you anything about snow and ice,” she said, “but this shows you how to do it.”

 

Eleven days later they arrive in Istanbul and so begins their ‘boys own adventure’. The book makes you think of many of our great explorers, gentlemen who just decided one day to discover Africa or walk to the South Pole because it was there and no one else had done it. The book is full of humour, mostly self-deprecating humour on the part of Newby.

 

In his introduction Evelyn Waugh said

 

…. his writing has all the marks of his not entirely absurd antecedents. The understatement, the self ridicule, the delight in the foreignness of foreigners, the complete denial of any attempt to enlist the sympathies of his readers in the hardships he has capriciously invited…… Mr Newby has delighted the heart of a man whose travelling days are done and who sees, all too often, his countrymen represented by other, new and (dammit) lower types.

For the experience of the places and the people they meet and the wonder at their perseverance through their ‘invited hardships’ this is an absorbing read.

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I read this a while ago - I'm surprised I didn't start a thread. I was amazed by how funny it was, as I hadn't expected that at all. I enjoyed it a lot. It also made me quite reflective about what has happened to that area since then.

 

My memory is hazy, but didn't someone look up one of the locals they walked with, maybe when Newby died?

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Like Minxminnie I read this some time ago and enjoyed it. I believe it's on many 'top tens' lists of fine travel writing.

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